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How to Use Tor Browser: All You Need to Know About Tor

Last updated: August 26, 2021

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If you’re thinking that it might be a good idea to protect your browsing activity by using Tor, you should first make sure that you understand just how Tor works.

You see, while Tor can help you protect your privacy, it is not foolproof, and there are certainly some downsides.

Keep on reading to find out some of the benefits and some of the vulnerabilities you may experience when Tor is being used; as well as the advantages to visiting sites online using Onion/Tor alongside a reputable VPN provider.

Our top VPN choice for use with Tor is ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has top safety and security features that will protect your browsing habits when you are on the Tor network or onion sites.

What Is Tor?

The answer to this question is front and center on the Tor Project website.

Tor is open-source, free software that can help you: “Browse Privately, explore Freely. Defend yourself against tracking and surveillance. Circumvent censorship.”

Tor Browser

While most people don’t realize it, Tor actually stands for “The Onion Router,” and if you’re looking for the safest, most discreet browsing on any site, you will want to access these sites with this Onion Router.

Tor directs your online traffic to a specific site through a series of random servers in different locations, sending it through multiple layers of additional encryption for extra anonymity for your web browsing.

When Tor is being used, your location, identity, and online activity are hidden from hackers, authorities, or prying eyes whenever you surf the web. For those of us accessing sites that could put us at risk, this is a huge asset.

To use Tor, all you have to do is download the browser (from the official website only!) and install it on your computer or device. Then, when you go online, use this browser as you browse the Internet.

After you have downloaded this software, complete the installation steps, open it up, and click the connect button to connect to Tor.

Connecting to Tor

To download this Browser securely, go to the Tor Project website: TorProject.org

What Is the Dark Web?

The dark web is actually part of a greater segment of the web, called the deep web.

The Internet (as most people know it) is actually referred to as the open (or surface) web; The open web is where we can simply find the websites we want to access through search engines, like Google.

The dark web is not quite as easily accessed. It is like an underground world of Internet sites that are not reachable through the typical address bar in your search engines, but instead through specialized browsers.

While there are plenty of sites on the deep web that are legal, the dark section is often not, as it is often used for illegal activity or to avoid censorship and surveillance.

Now, while the dark web remains underground, it is actually surprisingly prolific — much bigger than the open web.

Because the dark web is often connected to illegality, such as buying goods on the black market, people who use this need to protect themselves by using specialized Tor browsers.

Despite what people may think, there are plenty of reputable companies that have a Tor version of their websites, like Facebook and The New York Times.

How to Use Tor Browser to Access Dark Web

If you want to access the normal version of Facebook or the New York Times, all you have to do is type in the website name or address (facebook.com or nytimes.com) in your browser’s address bar, and — voila! — you’re connected to your site.

Because you can’t simply search for an onion address or onion sites on Google, you will need to find a reputable online index of these onion addresses or onion sites to find the URL that will help you reach the private version of your sites.

When you find the URL, it is imperative that you make sure you are typing in the right address to reach your site. Typing in a mistaken address can put you at risk.

Use the Onion browser in a way you would use your normal browser, but remember to be more discreet about who you interact with and what you share. Never share your addresses or any identifying info that could compromise your security.

And remember — the very best way to stay safe while on the dark web is if you pair Tor with a virtual private network.

Is Tor Browser a VPN?

Nope. While these two terms are often mixed up, they are not synonymous. VPNs send your traffic through a remote server and protect your privacy online by using military-grade encryption.

If you use the Tor browser alone, your Internet Service Provider (and others) can see that you are on a Tor Network, which compromises your privacy.

When you use a VPN and Tor together, your ISP will not be able to see that you are using Tor, so it won’t be able to report you, block you, or throttle your speeds. Using these two in tandem gives you the utmost privacy and anonymity — no matter what you are doing online.

How Does Tor Browser Work?

Again, the best way to picture how a Tor browser works is to picture an onion with lots of layers.

The first step that your information goes through when using a Tor browser is its multi-layered encryption.

Next, your data is then randomly sent through relays around the world, and re-encrypted. This process repeats itself over a network of nodes.

When your online data goes through one of the nodes, a layer of the onion (and a layer of encryption) is peeled back, allowing its location only to be viewed by the next node in the relay. The last node is called the exit node, and this is the only layer that is revealed to the final destination site.

Since only the preceding node reveals its own information, it is impossible for any of your activity to be connected to you, or traced to your original IP address or location.

How Safe (and Anonymous) Is Tor Browser? 

While a Tor browser offers a very high degree of anonymity, it does not keep us entirely safe and secure online.

Although your information and location are nearly impossible to track using a Tor browser, some people will still be able to see some of your site activity.

The Tor servers are operated by volunteers, so when your data is sent through their server, they can see the information on the server that preceded theirs.

The last server, or the exit node, is the exception. This node decrypts the activity, so it can spy on you and see if you have visited any unsecured sites. It does not, however, have access to your starting IP address and location.

If you want to secure your traffic on a level higher than using a straight Tor Browser, you can avoid the exit node revealing any of your activity by using VPN over Tor.

And, remember, while Tor over VPN is very secure, any time you offer your sensitive information voluntarily, you are putting yourself at risk. So, in this case, human error is the biggest risk — not the dark web.

Tor Disadvantages

So, if Tor browser is even more encrypted and more secure than a VPN, why not use Tor browser all the time?

Well, to answer this question, there are some disadvantages to Tor that are important to understand.

First, the main reason that we do not recommend you using Tor Browser all the time is that it is very slow. Because your traffic is sent through multiple layers of encryption, it has further to travel to get to its end site.

If you are looking to stream movies on streaming sites, using the Onion browser would make this experience excruciating. For activities like torrenting and streaming, using a VPN is a better, quicker option.

A second downside to Tor is that it does not encrypt all of your activity online. Unlike a VPN that encrypts all of your activity (unless you are using split tunneling), Tor will only encrypt your browser traffic and will leave other apps exposed. If you want to be extra safe, combining Tor and a VPN is the best bet.

One of the other things that deter us from using Tor is that, while your IP address is undetectable by outsiders, the fact that you are using Tor is visible, which might raise suspicion. Because of Tor’s reputation for always being illegal, this could be a red flag to authorities or your ISP.

Using Tor with a VPN

If you want to be protected while rollerblading, wearing a helmet and wristguards will keep you safer than just wrist guards or just a helmet.

The same goes if you use the Tor Network with a VPN. While both will protect you, using them together will give you a higher level of privacy, anonymity, and security.

For instance, if you want to use Tor for its top privacy and anonymity but don’t want the fact that you are using Tor to be revealed to your ISP or authorities, a virtual private network will fix this.

The different ways you can use these two protections in unison are by using Tor over a VPN, or VPN over Tor.

Tor over a VPN:

Tor over VPN, or Onion over VPN, is the simple way to combine these two privacy tools. To do this, first establish a VPN connection, and then connect to the Onion Network using your VPN protection.

Some VPNs, like ExpressVPN, make this really easy by giving you the option to use their built-in Tor option. This way, you don’t even have to download a separate Tor Browser.

Tor over VPN

VPN over Tor

The next way to use these two protections in tandem is by first connecting to the Tor Browser, and then connecting to your VPN.

The advantage of doing it in this order is that you are then protected from exit nodes because your traffic is routed from the exit node through your VPN’s encrypted server, so you won’t have to worry about any leaks on that last node.

This method, unfortunately, will allow outside parties — like your ISP — to see that you are using the Onion Network, which is a significant downside.

We recommend that you use the Tor over VPN option in almost all cases, but using VPN over Tor is a better option if you are sharing classified information that would put you in danger if leaked.

Best VPNs to Use with Tor Network

Not all VPNs are good choices when it comes to working together with Tor. Some VPNs, however, are actually great choices and were even designed in a way that took Tor use into consideration.

After testing out over 2 dozen VPN services on the market today, I narrowed it down to the top 3 VPNs that have the best safety and security features, best speeds, and best compatibility with Tor.

Devices compatible with ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is a great option if you are looking for a VPN to pair with Tor — so much so that it even has a .onion site of its own on the Onion network.

While ExpressVPN is known as the fastest VPN on the market, it is also impressively secure, and reliably private.

ExpressVPN does not store data on a hard drive; It uses TrustedServer technology, which means that all data is stored on RAM, and each time the server is rebooted, all previous user sessions are wiped completely and will never be available for others to access.

On top of the fact that ExpressVPN has a strict, verified no-logs policy, it also offers OpenVPN protocols, IP and DNS leak protection, and 256-bit military-grade encryption that will ensure that your identity stays hidden while you are on the Tor network — even when it comes to the vulnerable exit nodes.

ExpressVPN has over 3,000 secure servers in 94 countries around the world, and if you are disconnected from one of these servers for some reason, ExpressVPN has a Kill Switch that will cut your connection so none of your personal activity and information can be leaked.

ExpressVPN is compatible with all major operating systems, including Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android. ExpressVPN is also compatible with Tor Browser, and has a browser extension for your Chrome, Firefox, or Edge web browser.

With this VPN, you can connect up to 5 devices simultaneously, all of which will be secured, and all of which will have fast connection speeds.

If you want to try out ExpressVPN before committing to a long-term subscription, you can test it out for 30 days with their money-back guarantee.


  • Exceptional streaming speeds
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Top security and privacy features
  • Compatible with Tor Browser
  • 24/7 live chat support
  • OpenVPN and other security protocols
  • 30-day money-back guarantee


  • More expensive than the other VPNs
  • Few simultaneous connections

2. NordVPN

Devices compatible with NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the best VPN providers to use in tandem with a Tor web browser, with top privacy and security settings, and over 5,300 high-speed servers in 59 countries around the world.

You can easily opt for Tor over VPN with NordvPN, and it protects your activity with its AES 256-bit encryption, OpenVPN protocol, no-logs policy, and a Kill Switch that will kill your Internet connection if your secure server connection cuts out for some reason, ensuring that your traffic is never leaked on any websites.

*Make sure that your Kill Switch is turned on in your security settings on your app. If the default setting has this feature disabled, you will want to flip the toggle switch to make sure you’re protected.

NordVPN also has a built-in ad blocker, CyberSec, that helps keep you and your computer safe from ads that may contain malware and trackers on any site you visit.

NordVPN has apps compatible with most devices and platforms, including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, and it offers browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers.

When you are using NordVPN, you can actually use up to 6 simultaneous device connections, so different users in your house or work can perform different activities on varying websites online simultaneously, all while protected.

Nord has 24/7 live-chat customer service, so if you ever have trouble while browsing the Internet, you can have a solution in just seconds. If you are not sold after a few weeks, you can cancel your subscription with Nord’s 30-day money-back guarantee.


  • Very fast streaming speeds
  • No-logging policy
  • Top privacy and security features
  • Cheaper price than ExpressVPN
  • 6 connections on one plan
  • Unlimited bandwidth


  • Slower speeds with advanced security
  • No Kill Switch on Android

Devices compatible with Surfshark

If you are planning to use the Tor Network, Surfshark is a great option that will work well alongside it.

Surfshark has over 3,200 servers in 65 countries and offers some of the best privacy and security features, like AES 256-bit encryption, split tunneling, double encryption, a Kill Switch, a no-logs policy, and obfuscated servers that will make it easier to use a VPN in countries with heavy censorship, making your IP address appear to be coming from routine web browsing — not from a VPN.

Surfshark also has a built-in ad blocker, CleanWeb, that helps keep you and your computer safe from malware and trackers when you browse the Internet.

One of the reasons why Surfshark is in our top 3 is that it allows us to connect as many devices as we want with just one account; and it has apps for pretty much all devices and platforms, including Windows, Android, Mac, Linux, Chrome and Firefox web browser, Fire TV, Apple TV, and more.

Surfshark offers 24/7 live-chat customer support, and a 30-day refund guarantee, giving you the chance to try browsing the dark web with this service for a month with no strings attached.


  • Live-chat support
  • No-logging policy
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited connections
  • Safe and secure web browsing
  • Protects us on the dark web
  • Affordable


  • Slightly slower speeds


Is using Tor illegal?
Using Tor in and of itself is not illegal, but if you use it to commit any illegal activity — like visiting illegal sites or downloading illegal content — these are still illegal if you use Tor.

In addition, people might think you are doing something illegal and single you out due to this suspicion if they see that you are on the Tor network.

Is Tor safe without a VPN?
Tor is definitely safe without using a VPN, but it is safer with one.

If you are using the Tor browser after having connected to a VPN, your ISP, authorities, or prying eyes will not be able to see that you are using Tor browser. If you use it by itself, the fact that you are using a Tor browser will be visible to them.

Does my ISP know I'm using Tor Browser?
If you use Tor without having connected to a VPN first, your ISP will be able to see that you are using the Tor network. It will not, however, be able to see what you are doing online.
Why is Tor so slow?
When you use a VPN, your traffic is sent through a layer of encryption. When you use Tor, it is sent through a series of servers — multiple layers of encryption. Because of these extra steps of encryption, it takes your traffic longer to reach its destination.


If you want to maximize your privacy and security and make sure your IP address, activities, and browsing habits, are hidden on every site you connect to — including onion sites — using a VPN with Tor is the best possible option.

ExpressVPN is the best choice to give you the utmost privacy when you browse the Internet in 2024. Try it today, risk-free, alongside Tor with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

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